Friday, May 14th, 2021

DJ Khaled ft. Nas, Jay-Z, James Fauntleroy and Harmonies by the Hive – Sorry Not Sorry

Slurry hot slurry…


[Video][Website]
[2.14]

Nortey Dowuona: At some time in your life, you get to the point where there is less life ahead of you than there is behind you. It’s a scary and exciting time, but eventually you have to face it, instead of despairing and caving into attempting to avoid this realization and trying to stay eternally young. The reason I’m not doing my usual spiraling encapsulation of how this song sounds and I’m pontificating, is cuz there is so little in it that Jay and Nas, once rivals and callow young men, but now fathers and millionaires, can say to their peers, and even less to their children and grandchildren. It’s a bad thing to hoard the resources and efforts of their younger coworkers James and The Hics, both of whom have done better work. STREETRUNNER and Tarik Azzouz put a great deal of effort into this glossy but matte black beat. And it’s all at the service of two formerly angry young men who refuse and will never be able to grow up. It’s a shame that the men who wrote “Politics As Usual” and “I Gave You Power” are so bereft of anything they want or can say, but it makes sense. The punishment we gave them truly befits their crimes, and they can sleep unbothered by the atrophy of their art and the atrocities they’ve committed. (ALSO CRYPTOCURRENCY SCARFACE!!!?!? WHAT!!!?? AND NOBODY THINKS TO ASK SCARFACE FOR A VERSE TO SAVE THIS SONG!!?!)
[0]

Edward Okulicz: I’m opposed to the death penalty, but I might make an exception for people who are still saying “sorry not sorry” in 2021. This is such a lazy soup that offends me all the more for everyone involved seeming so smug about its hack-work.
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: DJ Khaled is basically the current era’s Puff Daddy, except that the latter has more talent; the former primarily has a great address book. Khaled’s records at this point feel exhausting — a collision of “look at all my famous friends,” dull hip hop production, and endless exhortations of “ANOTHER ONE!” and “WE THE BEST MUSIC!” and his own fucking name. I assume we’re supposed to be excited by “Sorry Not Sorry” because it features the fences-mended pair of Nas and Jay-Z, but they forgot to have anything to say. If you want to hear rappers — great rappers, no less — sleepwalking through their verses, this is the place to start. Fauntleroy does his best James Blake manqué, and the absurd “Harmonies by the Hive” credit simply means a few cooed syllables from Beyoncé. What this all amounts to, together, is a whole lotta bling on a burlap sack.
[2]

Michael Hong: Keep waiting for someone on this to do something interesting, for Nas or Jay-Z to do something with their verses (even DJ Khaled’s tag sounds more spirited), or for Fauntleroy’s autotuned “sorry not sorry” to not sound so meek. Apparently, the best this group could do was get a sample of Beyoncé sighing.
[2]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: I don’t know if the piano sample of Fauntleroy is out of tune on the intro, but something seems off. Nas and Jay-Z drop verses that feel a little more functional than fun, though I do love “Circular ice on Japanese whiskey, on my mezzanine/Overlookin’ the City of Angels, the angel investor in things”. But unlike some other songs we’ve covered recently, this is really a “more money, no problems” anthem. And while Jay and Bey’s two Bs pale in comparison to the Gates and Bezos divorce settlements, I still feel strange valorizing billionaires as a concept. Taken at face value, it’s a fun little jam, but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
[4]

Samson Savill de Jong: You know how it is when you ask your friends to do you a favour, you’re grateful, but if they don’t do it as well as you need it’s awkward to ask them for more help; you don’t want to seem like you’re taking their generosity for granted. DJ Khaled probably decided it wasn’t worth it and to just use what he had. This song finds Jay-Z at his worst, spaced out bars with lackluster rhymes mostly bragging about himself being wealthy and demanding we be happy for/envious of him. Nas is better, but not by much — cornball lines using tropes so played out that they’re eligible for the rap hall of fame (reference Scarface, I bet no rapper’s done that before). James Fauntleroy mediocrely sings a chorus built around a line that was a tired cliche in 2014, but used entirely unironically here. This song is aiming to sound glamorous and luxurious, like a Rolls Royce, but look closely and you’ll see the paint is flaking off, it’s not been washed in three years and there’s dents in the doors and at the back that haven’t quite been buffed out.
[2]

Ian Mathers: You’ve got to hand it to Khaled, he’s right; this is, indeed, another one.
[3]

Friday, May 14th, 2021

H.E.R. – Fight for You

This actually scores pretty well for an Academy-endorsed song, and yet still…


[Video]
[5.38]

Katie Gill: In his review of the Best Original Song nominees, Stephen Thompson coined the phrase “Glorycore.” “Glorycore” describes any song that occurs right at the end credits where the lyrics are composed entirely of bland sentiments about standing strong and fighting for things, songs that basically saw Glory‘s 2014 Oscar win and went “oh hey, we can copy that.” “Fight For You” is picture perfect Glorycore. H.E.R. at least injects some funk and some fun in the song — those horns are neat. But the generic lyrics let everything down. At the end of the day, this is just an absolutely boilerplate nothing of a song designed just to get Judas and the Black Messiah an Oscar win if Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield split the votes in their category (they didn’t, thank God). It’s a winning formula: it’s generic, it’s performed by an awards show darling, and everybody knows the Academy will always go for “vaguely meaningful” over “kind of silly but surprisingly great.”
[3]

Nortey Dowuona: Ok, H.E.R. I’m gonna give you grace. This is your lane, and you do it well. I’m gonna be the only one here who likes this a great deal, but I hope to be pleasantly surprised. Good exit the theater music, I’m digging it.
[6]

Samson Savill de Jong: This proves you don’t need to sound angry to make a good protest song. H.E.R. is never going to go full Rage Against The Machine (although now I’ve come up with the image I’d be very intrigued to see her try), so when she’s asked to make a end credit song for a film about Fred Hampton she was always going to take it in her own direction. I’m not sure she necessarily completely fulfilled the brief of feeling “contemporary with echoes of 1968“; it’s very good 60s/early 70s pastiche, but there’s not that much contemporary sounding about it. Not that I honestly count that as a mark against H.E.R., this sounds too good regardless of when it was made. The lyrics are forceful without being overpowering, a balance H.E.R. is very good at pulling off in general. I think the outro lags a little, probably a result of being for the end credits of a film and needing to eat up the time, but it’s the only real negative to speak of.
[8]

Harlan Talib Ockey: Stop and look up a video of Fred Hampton speaking. Right now. If you’ve seen him in action, you’ll understand why it’s so infuriating that “Fight For You” — a song written from an activist’s perspective — features not only a bland, anemic vocal performance, but simplistic lyrics with not so much as a metaphor involved. The instrumental is a striking evocation of the turn of the ’70s, with the strings and crackling bassline suggesting Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield, though we’re still missing some passion there too. It’s better than “Húsavík,” I guess?
[5]

Alfred Soto: Cheers for the buoyant, burbling rhythm track: Trouble Man-era Gaye, check. But H.E.R., a specialist in romantic confusion, sings too prettily and writes too windily to match a film about the exploits of Fred Hampton. She needed to write tough admonitory verses, not platitudinous quasi-romantic ones.
[4]

Edward Okulicz: This has triumph written over it. But it’s also boring. I approve of the sound, as if taken out of cold storage after 50 years, but in practice it’s also boring. The lyrics hit the right tropes, but.. you guessed it, it’s boring. Which I guess makes this an Academy Award Winner For Best Original Song.
[5]

Camille Nibungco: “Fight For You” is a BLM anthem that combines the groovy flavors of 60’s Motown and contemporary R&B of the present. Her simmering vocal cadence is akin to Alicia Keys in her Diary of Alicia Keys era. I’m personally lukewarm about the song given that I feel like H.E.R.’s artistic capacity was toned down but understand its purposeful construction as it was written for a movie soundtrack. Nevertheless, it’s an easy listen that displays the timelessness of soul.
[5]

Andrew Karpan: The early decision to bathe herself in mystery ultimately worked for Gabi Wilson, who doesn’t have hit songs but has everything else. Why do you need hits? It took Radiohead two decades to realize that all you need is just enough fans with pockets and you’ll be set for life. And the interiority works, the aversion to pop as something listened to by many. Instead, she meets the record’s needs on her own terms. The required performance of an homage is revealed as a location for intimacy, a conversion carried out in a low register. A relief compared to the thunderous nonsense of its fellow Oscar-winner “Glory,” Legend’s voice collapsing under the anxious baggage of having delivered a hit record the year before. H.E.R. will always sound like this, agitated but aware, looking across the room and sighing quietly.
[7]

Thursday, May 13th, 2021

Jessie Ware – Please

Does exactly what it says it’s going to do.


[Video][Website]
[8.43]

Leah Isobel: This is just “Imagine It Was Us, pt. 2: The Re-Imagining,” and the fanservice cherry on top of a fanservice album era. I am a fan, so I feel seen!
[8]

Alfred Soto: This special edition track offers yet another rearranging of the dance tropes that Jessie Ware has mastered: a handclap, a bass sequencer, backing vocals, a whisper. That’s all it takes. Yet other artists come up with agreeable but thump-less material. She could’ve called this track “What’s Your Pleasure” — too bad she used the title on an even thumpier thumper. 
[7]

Dorian Sinclair: I find deluxe reissues often don’t justify their existence — even if the extra songs are good, a lot of the time they don’t feel like they’re adding anything new to the album. “Please,” though, surprised me. What’s Your Pleasure was slick, alluring, and eminently danceable, but it was also very very polished in a way that sometimes felt remote. “Please” keeps the sleekness, but adds a sense of play that the album often lacked. Those descending pings and twangs, the shifting echo of the background vox, and the frank weirdness of the outro riffs all combine to give it a spontaneity and looseness I find deeply appealing. I know they’re placed as meticulously as anything off the original album, but it feels like anything could happen, and I’m happy to be along for the ride.
[8]

Ian Mathers: My last Jessie Ware blurb here was partially about the fact that she seemingly always registers as a [7] for me. I don’t know if it’s just (“just”) how good a time everyone seems to be having, even before you can hear the laughter and whoops in the back, but she’s really throwing off the curve for me.
[8]

Samson Savill de Jong: This sounds like a rip-off of a song I can’t name, with its bouncing synths and its little guitar runs and its AIaiyais and the echoing pleases that pop up all over the soundscape. After careful consideration, I’ve decided it’s not because this is generic sounding, it’s because this sounds timeless, like it has always existed and Jessie Ware just happened to put it up on Spotify to remind the rest of us about it. If that’s too roundabout way of saying it, I like this song a lot, although I do have quibbles with the end. I tend to find putting “chatting people having fun” sound effects in songs a little corny, and I don’t think it was needed here, and then the song just sort of dissipates right at the end, which is unsatisfying (this might’ve been one of the few songs that could’ve justified fading out). Still, these don’t really detract from the majority of the song, which is a delight.
[9]

Edward Okulicz: The click and the clap of the beats give me a feeling like I’ve just executed a particularly stylish move in the club. Ware’s chorus is stuffed full of feeling; the desirous backing vocals hint at both her demand and the reward for complying. I don’t think there’s ever enough of this music in the world.
[9]

Michael Hong: You don’t go to the club to find love — but luckily, that’s not what Jessie Ware’s trying to do. She’s already got someone, which is why you don’t hear it — the caution, the shame, a confession. “Please” is teasing, flirting the way “What’s Your Pleasure?” did. Perhaps not as suggestive, yet just as playful, surrendering herself to the moment and to another. But Ware looks further into the future, and unlike What’s Your Pleasure?, “Please” needs to give a reason why the party shouldn’t end. As such, everything hits harder: rubbery synths are more elastic, squiggles are brighter, and Ware throws a vocal performance that’s even richer. “I could be the girl of your dreams,” she sings, before shouting the word “dreams” with violent adoration. Ware keeps the tension high until she’s ready to bounce, the thrill of the chase too much to resist. “I’ll give you a little if you give me a little,” she teases, leading you out the back door and into the cab to whoops and giggles. Being sweet just feels so damn good.
[10]

Wednesday, May 12th, 2021

Willow Smith ft. Travis Barker – Transparent Soul

Whoa, I never meant to whip my hair back and forth…


[Video][Website]
[6.57]

Samson Savill de Jong: I suppose I should check the internet for some background info, though these upcomers sound like they haven’t been making music long so I can’t imagine there’ll be too much about them just yet. I can probably get away with it, I’m sure no one will notice. Good for this underground act for managing to get their demo a wide release! I’m surprised that a label is looking for this kind of generic pop-punk right now, but I guess the nostalgia cycle is coming around again, and indie acts like this have got to take what they can get. 
[4]

Alfred Soto: In which Willow Smith goes Paramore (or is it Avril Lavigne?) with Blink-182’s drummer. Unconvincing as statement of rage, “Transparent Soul” works as a gesture of versatility; the guitars sport the right treble and Willow is snotty. So, yeah, there’s a certain transparency.
[7]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: t h i s s p a c i n g i s d u m b b u t w h o c a r e s w h e n t h e s o n g s l a p s ?
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: As far as I’m concerned everyone — celebrity kid, TikTok star, reality TV contestant, person in the next car over you hand a microphone — can make this sort of pop-punk and I will probably like it.
[7]

Jeffrey Brister: The most damning thing I can say about this really good song is that it’s a second-rate “Part II”, which probably sounds mean, but hear me out. “Transparent Soul” has the wall of guitar in the chorus, the spare verses, and cacophonous drums throughout, but its texture is soft and inviting, rather than brittle and abrasive. There is an intimidating starkness to Paramore’s best song, but he warmth and fullness of Willow’s tune holds it back a little. Something about it feels a little too tentative, like it’s afraid of committing to the bit.
[7]

Ian Mathers: This is fun! But that faint, background hint of screaming at the end? They should have gone way further in that direction.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: Tell your mom you love her as much as you can. And do something nice for her, like this.
[7]

Tuesday, May 11th, 2021

Tion Wayne x Russ Millions ft. ArrDee, E1 (3×3), ZT (3×3), Bugzy Malone, Buni, Fivio Foreign & Darkoo – Body (Remix)

One of the biggest artist billing-to-song title ratios in our history?


[Video]
[7.00]

Ian Mathers: Given that there’s nine of them it’s actually hugely impressive that only ArrDee is annoying (and further listening indicates that’s kind of his thing anyway). A glance at the lyrics mostly just reveals that I’m not going to get most of what’s going on here, and I’m totally open to hearing that the UK gang stuff/gender politics/(etc) are beyond the pale, but on the surface this is tremendously, menacing involving with a hook I fear is already lodged in my head. The original went like hell and with the aforementioned exception (who genuinely sounds like he’s doing a verse for a totally different and far inferior song) all the exceptions add to it.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: Ok!!! Now we cooking. I loved this heavy, bass drum filled beat with papier mâché percussion and popped snares and a hovering synth chord. It made do a shimmy. Ok, now time for the verses: 6) ArrDee: I’m not trying to front; he had a really good verse but this remix is so good he is the worst one here by dint of novelty and others having better verses than him. Liked the White Boy Wasted line. 5) Fivio Foreign: good flow and good voice, otherwise mid verse. 4) Bugzy Malone: great verse, shite flow. Plus: 3) 3×3 (E1/ZT): E1 & ZT: good verse, good flow, shite voice. 2) Buni: Said Cappy and Happy and didn’t sound pathetic. Decent voice. 1) Darkoo: queen shit bitch.
[9]

Thomas Inskeep: Here’s what I think is the essential difference between UK drill and US drill: the British version, at its best/most, sounds sinister in a way the Yanks don’t. Listen to the track here. It’s dark. Bringing in all of these guests to the remix of “Body” was a smart idea, too, as most of them add spice in their own ways — ArrDee sounds like the goofy little brother, Fivio Foreign the American cousin, Darkoo the don’t-fuck-with-her Afrobeats rapper. “Body” is good bones that needed more added to it than just Tion Wayne x Russ Millions; the original’s maybe a [5], but with all of these features, “Body (Remix)” is a strong:
[8]

Samson Savill de Jong: The original is a solid [8]. This remix suffers from too many cooks syndrome, too many rappers to have individuals leave lasting impressions whilst pushing the song beyond the length limit. Wu-Tang managed to get away with it by having people who were top tier rappers in their own right, but also had wildly differing styles. I can tell all these guys apart, but they’re all in the same food group so it’s not exactly a balanced diet. There are better and worse verses, and the average is on the better side, but it still feels like a bunch of mailed in verses thrown together.
[5]

Leah Isobel: I really like the hook — it has a satisfying movement, and Tion and Russ’s voices create a nice contrast with each other and the beat. The first half keeps this energy up, managing to balance playful shit-talk with underlying menace. I imagine the back half of the song would be more enjoyable if I was more familiar with the performers; as it is, so many of the flows get stuck on 4/4 time that the pile-up of verses starts to grate.
[5]

Alfred Soto: The credits read like a court settlement, but this example of drill provides showcases, complements, rapped harmonies, and distinguishable timbres. 
[7]

Tuesday, May 11th, 2021

Itzy – In the Morning

Mourning, more like…


[Video][Website]
[3.12]

Kayla Beardslee: We cannot get out. We cannot get out. They have taken the bridge and the Second Hall: Aespa and CLC and early Everglow fell there bravely, while the rest retreated to retro concepts. We have barred the gates but cannot hold them for long. The ground shakes… drops, drops in the deep. We cannot get out. The shadow moves in the dark. We cannot get out… Blackpink’s influence is coming.
[0]

Anna Katrina Lockwood: This title track is such a total misjudgement of Itzy’s strengths. It plods where it should zip, and it snoozes where it should leap. Itzy are more than capable of carrying a minimalist track through on their charm alone, but prior examples have depended on their ability to communicate their joyous energy, which is impossible within a song so leaden as “In the Morning.” Ryujin is the only member who seems to have found a groove amidst all the Teddy-isms, and her verse is a cool moment of respite. But even her best efforts aren’t enough to salvage anything particularly interesting or noteworthy from this song. 
[2]

Tobi Tella: The Blackpinkification of other girl groups is not necessarily a bad thing; I’m all for some obnoxious over the top pop production. Unfortunately, you can tell this isn’t in their wheelhouse — every time they try and sell the focus-grouped (by someone evil) mafia line, it falls more on the line of cringe than boast. It’s so concerned with cribbing style that the euphoria people associate with the genre is gone. It moves, it doesn’t sound terrible, but it’s just not fun.
[4]

Alfred Soto: “In the Morning” approximates what I imagine when Itzy comes up: Itzy bitzy spiders creeping into your brain. The keyboards — long-legged and persistent — match the intensity of their vocals. Still, rather faceless.
[6]

Vikram Joseph: Gritty low-end, staccato squawks of synth and a liberal dose of sass make “In The Morning” a convincing confluence of its influences; it’s pitched somewhere between Cardi B and the Pussycat Dolls, and if that’s the extent of their ambitions then this is fine, I guess.
[5]

Katie Gill: Remember when Itzy had a musical identity that wasn’t simply knockoff BLACKPINK?
[4]

Michael Hong: “In the Morning” asks Itzy to work against their greatest asset: their charisma. Small hints arise, like Ryujin and Yeji doing their best to add variation in tempo and dynamics to those spiritless raps, but most of “In the Morning” is spent staring blankly in the dark. The other variation, that annoyingly exaggerated “ring ding ding ding ding ding,” is anything but charming.
[1]

Samson Savill de Jong: Who knew that the Crazy Frog was a mafia kingpin all along?
[3]

Tuesday, May 11th, 2021

Sakurazaka46 – BAN

We cover them for the first time since they were called Keyakizaka46…


[Video]
[6.83]

Juana Giaimo: At a time when Western pop music seems rather downbeat and leaning towards slower melodies, “BAN” sounds refreshing. The fast and powerful guitar strum and the all the vocal harmonies (I especially love the “uuuh” and “ahhh” in the second part of the chorus) complement each other really well. I’m still not used to group singing (I’m always looking for the individuality of each voice), but this song cheered up my day and that is already a lot. 
[7]

Jeffrey Brister: There’s a sweet spot that smashes the Nostalgic Jeff Sitting At The Playstation 2 button, and this is it. That driving, jazzy, energetic music heavy on harmony, filled with little bent note lines over its duration, with drums that you can feel in your chest — like you’re about to just wild out playing Auto Modellista or Capcom vs. SNK 2. It’s a fleeting feeling, one that’s probably colored too heavily by memory’s inexactness, but “BAN” captures it more clearly than anything I’ve heard recently.
[9]

Ian Mathers: Given how much is happening here, and how much it all feels like it’s happening, it’s kind of neat that the bit that sticks with me the most is that frantic acoustic guitar running through it all. 
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: Extremely high-energy pop (not hi-NRG) that yet sounds organic, thanks in no small part to the flamenco-esque guitars winding their way through the arrangement. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really go anywhere, the musical equivalent of running in place.
[5]

Vikram Joseph: This is so chaotic; it’s like “Little Talks”, “Despacito” and several anime theme tunes put in a blender, which still doesn’t quite account for the bit where it threatens to morph into “La Isla Bonita.” To be clear, none of this is necessarily bad.
[7]

Michael Hong: “BAN” gets run through the digital shredder. The acoustic guitar line stutters like it’s being ripped apart, eventually morphing into razor-sharp synths. Sakurazaka46 match that same energy, delivering lines with the same sharp intensity. Do I wish there was a bit more range to their vocals? Sure. But the dynamics of “BAN,” its rapid-fire barrage, and those peppy chants make up for it.
[7]

Tuesday, May 11th, 2021

Ryan Hurd with Maren Morris – Chasing After You

Garth and Trisha, Tim and Faith… Ryan and Maren?


[Video][Website]
[5.62]

Thomas Inskeep: A gorgeous song about a relationship that can’t help but keep going on-again, off-again, made better by the fact that it’s a duet between a real-life couple — Hurd and Morris are married. Their vocals sound especially sincere and pair perfectly with the mix of pop production techniques and country instrumentation (that guitar sounds for all the world like Keith Urban’s). I know using the word here is cliché, but sometimes a cliché is the perfect fit: this smolders.
[7]

Michael Hong: Both Hurd and Morris have rough-edges to their voices that, paired with that electric guitar, give “Chasing After You” some gravity, the sense that love isn’t simply fate, but something to be fought for, earned. That said, it’s weird to hear the couple, married with a child, sing harmony about the other walking out the door on them, especially with how quickly they rush back into the chase after Morris’s verse.
[5]

Alfred Soto: They want us wondering, in that familiar way, whether the confessed anxieties are theirs. The sense of sharing their chastened lives with their audience undergirds the decision to sing every line together. That crinkly guitar riff does a lot of work, but I will not deny the commitment of Ryan Hurd and Maren Morris: his prissy regular-dude pipes are agreeable, while she depends on a late-song entrance to belt her verities. Some of them are well-put: “Every time you say we’re done/You come back to the love you werе running from.”
[7]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: Guitar melodies don’t translate to vocal hooks as well as Hurd would like, but when the track opens up and Morris starts to sing, it becomes something passable, and maybe even likeable. 
[5]

Samson Savill de Jong: Who knew a duet with your real life wife could be so completely passionless? This slips from calm and mellow to soporific, and while I can see people enjoying this, I just find it utterly bland.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: I didn’t like “Two is Better Than One” the first time either.
[3]

Andy Hutchins: A song with this many gorgeous elements biffing crucial little things is close to musical tragedy. The simple guitar is sumptuous and the melody doubles beautifully as the vocal line, but it resolves much more cleanly over the first verse than the shorter second; it beggars belief that no one fought successfully against the asymmetry in the studio. Hurd’s voice is also perfectly pitched to this torch-lit wanting, rich and full without being too sentimental or showy. Morris, conversely, goes for something sharper, and the effect helps make that second verse an aborted attempt to steal the show and hampers the harmonies, which mostly find her swallowed up. The solution to what little is wrong here is there in the staggered vocalization of the first half of the bridge, too: Making a call-and-response or a finishing-each-other’s-sentences version of “Chasing After You” would’ve parlayed the contrasts in the couple’s voices into characters in dialogue and speaking the same love language rather than a lopsided duet. In fairness, what could have been near perfect with a tweak or three still goes down easy as is.
[7]

Mark Sinker: The complication on the Lennon-Ono marriage — I mean in our consumption of it as it unfolded as an adventure, a moral experiment, a countercultural promise, a commodity — was that in context there was often something very winning to the simplicity of its claims (“we’re just the same as you! freed perhaps from some pressures thanks to our recent hard-earned success! which you could achieve also!”) even as the self-absorption of the project seemed unsurmountable: this unspeakably wealthy couple making piano-driven pop-rock haikus from nothing but the tremors of their own tetchy inwardness. I know nearly nothing about the Hurd-Morris marriage — for example they can’t possibly be so rich! — yet the dynamic here does feel similar, if only because they open with a rococo little echo of the “Jealous Guy” melody, first as riff-hook and then as vocal. It’s vastly decadent to be making a lament (however slight, however provisional) from the fact they absolutely have each other and this works and they like it — because oh noes it won’t last, poor us, pity us, such hapless sexy babies. But if the plush self-satisfaction is aggravating, it is also something we surely most of us reach for and yearn for now and then: to be thrilled just with one another other, and untouched by the wide world’s grim harms.
[7]

Monday, May 10th, 2021

Billie Eilish – Your Power

Quieter, at least in sound…


[Video]
[7.33]

Alex Clifton: This is so haunting, especially coming from a nineteen-year-old — it hurts to know that someone so young has already had to deal with such abuses in power and trust in her life. It’s beautiful, simple, stark, and so, so vulnerable; I didn’t have the bravery at her age to come out against those who took advantage of me, and I still struggle to do so a decade later. It’s easy enough to point out that by taking control of her narrative, Eilish is reclaiming her power, but I hope she knows that a song like this will help countless others do the same.
[10]

Leah Isobel: “I thought that I was special/You made me feel/Like it was my fault/You were the devil” collapses a lifetime’s worth of processing into an elegant, despairing quadtych. There’s not really anywhere for Billie to go before or after that. There doesn’t need to be. The song builds its entire moral and emotional universe out from the way those images fall into each other, teasing out the tension between what should have been (“try not to…”) and what actually, irrefutably was (“…abuse your power”). You can’t find enlightenment in that tension, though I have tried many times.
[7]

Mark Sinker: This tale was ancient back when I was Billie’s age, of course — when we (“we”, as a handwaved age-cohort) had leapt within short months from seizing on the idea that music was of course part of the remedy and the fightback against misused power (whether this meant rock or punk or pop or whichever micro-genre slice we embraced that week as the solution) to the beginnings of a pervasive sense that cruelty and predation was grafted into the purposed bones of all of them, that this is maybe why they work at all, and we would have to remake everything to ever begin to be free of them. This intimation of freedom is what was so exhilarating; this is what cathected music into us as an activity to be pursued and explored. Four decades on, and Billie is one of the three titans of pop that I bond with my niece (14) over — and that feels like a complicated tangle, because (first) the other two are currently Stormzy mainly for his swears, and the Crazy Frog #ffs… and (second) well, must the entire horrible mountain always be climbed right from the start every day? As for the first, enjoying her music for signifying this pleasing family bond is plainly a way of sidestepping its richest exhilarations; the things it says about being free if not from me myself, then from mine. As for the second, I don’t think we achieved nothing, I don’t think we knew nothing, I don’t think we were wrong or dumb or useless as kids — and yet here we are, and here is this song needing to be sung right now, very much as if we were wrong and dumb and useless after all. It should not be children heading into this fight, and yet here we all still are.
[10]

Al Varela: This is a really harrowing song to release as a single in the lead-up to your album. Billie is no stranger to dark topics in her music, but this feels different. It’s drawing upon a topic that’s not only taboo in art, but especially in music where this kind of thing happens far too often. There’s no real way to escape from it either. The music itself is so bare-bones that you can only focus on the lyrics, and confront the reality that girls like Billie face this constantly. This abuse of power comes from people who claim to have your best interest in mind, yet only when you grow older do you realize how badly it’s poisoned you. The lyrics are so undeniably powerful that I can’t let the otherwise simple production override how impressed by it I am. And also how terrified it makes me. 
[9]

Andrew Karpan: While I really buy the drama of this record — the next track on Happier Than Ever is allegedly a song called “NDA,” so it’s tempting to think of this as some kind of acoustic intro for some kind of explosive guitar solo set up over there — it’s probably more interesting as an expression of range. And what range! She can pull off Taylor Swift far better than Swift can pull off singing over trap beats. But I’m not quite sure how interesting that really is. Much like the Vogue cover that accompanied its release, it’s a work of dress up meant to protect the song from sounding too intimate. It’s a work of “larger commentary,” as Craig Jenkins called it or as she herself has said, “an open letter.” And she’s not wrong — more than anything, it feels written down. 
[6]

Alfred Soto: A realized gesture though Not For Me. Although she specializes in quiet, Billie Eilish doesn’t grab me when she offers her parched tones instead of a more full-throated experience.
[6]

Kayla Beardslee: This is so boring. I know the lyrics are about something serious, but the music is doing nothing to make me care.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: That “Praying” thing again, where artists feel compelled to deliver their serious confessions in austere, penitent acoustic arrangements, for fear a pop song would be dismissed on sound before the first word. Unfortunately, they’re absolutely justified in that fear: this is, too often, what it takes to be heard. I just wish it weren’t. Imagine if this said all the same things but sounded like “Bury a Friend.”
[5]

Ian Mathers: I cannot wait for the people who wrote bad thinkpieces about “Bad Guy,” “Bury a Friend,” et al. to get their hands on this and continue to completely miss the fucking point. No, one shouldn’t have to disclose their trauma in order to get people to take them seriously (or for any reason other than that they want to). And no, talking about that shouldn’t mean people start viewing all of your work through that one lens. God forbid Eilish just make another gorgeous song that’s got more going on under the hood than half of the people who are going to talk about it will acknowledge (TSJ excepted, naturally).
[9]

Samson Savill de Jong: On an objective level, insofar as “objective” is a concept that exists, this is a good song. It does what it sets out to do, and does it in such a way that any changes would surely have made it worse. But it’s one of those songs that I have to give dispassionate praise to because it fundamentally isn’t for me. Not because the content speaks to experiences I haven’t and won’t have (although maybe if I had experienced this kind of sexual and sexist abuse of power it could resonate more strongly), because I want and encourage songs that are actually about serious topics, and this song in particular I think is extremely sharply written with some devastating lines. I mean it’s not for me sonically; this kind of acoustic piece doesn’t do it for me. When I think about acoustic songs I like (e.g. Pink Floyd’s “Mother” or Foo Fighters’ acoustic “Everlong“) they have a sense of building to a crescendo, the soft acoustic standing in contrast to the power bubbling just beneath. “Your Power,” in contrast, is delicate and fragile, not so much angry but broken, worn down by the bullshit — which is a good thing. The song wouldn’t work if Billie just sounded pissed off; the tone absolutely fits the feeling that she wants to create. 
[6]

Will Adams: Like Kimbra’s “Everybody Knows,” there’s a stark, raw quality to this, a “you know what you did” delivered with bitter disappointment. Billie in ballad mode could ruffle those who prefer her creepier aesthetic, but for me it’s resulted in some of her strongest moments, and “Your Power” is firmly one of the latter.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: Striking. The simplicity of the song, and its arrangement and production, is unlike anything we’ve heard from Eilish (and her producer/co-writer/brother Finneas) before: it’s just Eilish’s voice (treated almost hypnotically) and an acoustic guitar. Which is all the better to spotlight its lyrics about power dynamics and abusive relationships. I’ve warmed to Eilish gradually over time, not much caring for most of her debut album, but finding my respect for her work growing as she’s released a continual drip-feed of non-album singles, and wondering what her next step would look like. Well, it’s here, and it looks awfully impressive.
[8]

Friday, May 7th, 2021

Young Thug & Gunna – Ski

Today’s top question: what yoghurt brand would you name a song after?


[Video]
[7.00]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: I’m not going to lie and say that this differs significantly from the other 37 Young Thug/Gunna tracks that have come out over the past half decade. In the limited [4]-[7] range that this corpus occupies, “Ski” rates as pretty good — the slight late-2000s retro of the synths and the smooth handoff between the two lend the song a certain charm within the strictures of their styles.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: This sounds distinctive. Young Thug and Gunna have voices that, while similar in tone, don’t sound like most rappers currently in the game. (And heaven knows they sound great together.) They’re not rapping over acoustic instrumentation, thank god. The beat’s simple and effective, with a little string sample offering perfect punctuation. The more this sinks in, embedding itself in my brain, the more I love it. 
[8]

Mark Sinker: (tsunami)(woo)(woo)(yeah)(yeah)(yeah)(yeah)(woo)(skrrt)(yeah)(yeah (yeah)(yeah)(yeah)(let’s go)(tryna hit, yeah, yeah)(‘fore she can talk to the, yeah)(skrrt, skrrt)(my shoes)(woah)(20)(woo)(woo, woah, woah, yee, woo)(woo)(ski)(ski)(let’s go)(yeah, yeah)(yeah)(tree)(be cheap)(bucket seats)(four-door)(know what I need)(hardly speak, yeah)(yeah)(yeah) (yeah)(woo)(ski)(ski)(let’s go)(yeah, yeah)(yeah)
[8]

Al Varela: You don’t have to think too hard about a Young Thug song. You either feel it or you don’t. That was my attitude towards the songs I heard off of Slim Language 2, and “Ski” ended up being the ones I liked pretty instantly. It’s got a triumphant string melody, similar to the horn line on “Hot”, but its flow is a bit jumpier and the energy is a lot more pronounced. I honestly love how the chorus is just Young Thug adlibbing and feeling the beat as it shakes the room. It’s loose and fun! Easy to come back to.
[8]

Samson Savill de Jong: Thugger is so damn infectious. A line like “She said, ‘You murk ’em, I show you my coochie'” should be inexcusable, but it’s kind of impossible to stay mad at the guy. He just puts a smile on your face in the same way a particularly dumb labrador does, and he knows where his strengths are, as shown by naming the song after one of his wonderful little ad libs. There is literally no scenario where I’d actively want to put this on, but I can’t hate on it either.
[5]

Ian Mathers: Neither originated it, but I’m weirdly into how much some of the percussion here reminds me of this Headphone Science record from 2003 I love. Everything comes around, I guess. The question with these guys is usually going to be, is it good obnoxious or bad obnoxious? So far this feels like the good kind.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Surrounded by pretenders and supplicants, Young Thug still whines and snaps like no one else. With Gunna matching him in humor “Ski” would’ve satisfied in 2014 and will in 2024. 
[7]